Wednesday, January 5, dawned like most of David and Anne DeVoe’s other vacation days spent on St. John, but would end in a way neither could have imagined.
It was only the quick-thinking and fast-acting response from everyone on Trunk Bay Beach, which saved DeVoe from serious trouble.
The couple from Massachusetts’s North Shore spent a week on St. John in early January visiting friends. They had spent several days enjoying the island — and missing a snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow on their hometown — when they ventured to Trunk Bay on Wednesday afternoon, January 5, to snorkel.
DeVoe, who described himself as a “fairly active” 70-year-old, was out quite far from shore when he realized something was wrong with his snorkel mask.
“The nose valve leaked, causing water to come into the mask,” he said. “Since I was very far out, it took some time to come in. Upon reaching the last buoy, I had ingested enough water so that I couldn’t catch my breath and could go no further.”
It was about 4:30 p.m. when DeVoe’s troubles began, meaning the lifeguards at Trunk Bay, who work until 4 p.m.were already off-duty and only a few people remained on the beach. While DeVoe’s friend, who had already reached shore, realized he was in trouble, he was unable to get out and rescue him.
Instead DeVoe’s friend alerted David D’Alberto, who leads snorkelers at Trunk Bay with Paradise Aqua Tours.
“David immediately jumped into the water and brought me in,” said DeVoe. “I managed to get back to our beach area, and laid down on my stomach to cough up water.”
Another one of DeVoe’s friends ran to find a lifeguard and managed to catch up with Alberto Samuel who was just packing up his equipment.
“Alberto came and immediately gave me oxygen,” said DeVoe. “In the meantime my friend ran to find someone with a cell phone that worked to call an ambulance.”
Trunk Bay lifeguard and certified EMT Terry Rogaczewski was on his way home by that time, but heard the radio call. Rogaczewski turned his vehicle around and raced back to the beach. Fellow Trunk Bay lifeguard and EMT Peter Hassen was with him.
“Terry and Peter came back to the beach,” said DeVoe. “The police and the ambulance were there in short order. Terry recommended that I be taken to the hospital on St. John and said that I might also be going to the hospital on St. Thomas.”
“He said that catching pneumonia was a real possibility and that fast medical attention could prevent complications,” DeVoe said. “I was strapped down to a carrier and carried off the beach, then transferred to a gurney before being put into the ambulance. My blood oxygen was way down and I got quite an escort to the hospital.”
DeVoe ended up spending that night at R.L. Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas. He was released the following day and was able to enjoy the rest of his vacation before returning to Massachusetts. Looking back on his Trunk Bay ordeal, DeVoe felt lucky and impressed with the response from EMTs and others on the beach.
“Apart from the excellent medical attention I received, I want to say that the response on the beach from all concerned was fast, efficient and professional,” said DeVoe. “I understand that lifeguard coverage ends at 4 p.m. at Trunk Bay and it was lucky that people were still there or nearby. A few minutes later and the outcome could have been very different for me.”
“I am still feeling well and I shudder to think what might have happened to me if no one had been on the beach,” he said. “ I was very fortunate to have received such a great response after hours, from a team of such professionals.”
The DeVoes returned home on Saturday, Janaury 15, to several additional inches of snow in their yard.